On Academic Freedom at BYU, Part 1: The BYU Statement

[Part two; part three]

The question of academic freedom at Brigham Young University provides an interesting case study in the dynamics of power and the pursuit of truth and the consequences of the concentration of power in a theologically defined hierarchy. Part 1 will explore the principles of academic freedom at BYU as expressed in its statement dated 1 April 1993 (available online, though a version dated Sept 14, 1992 was still handed to new faculty as of the end of the first decade of the 2000s, if not still today.) Part 2 will focus on its implementation specifically under the current Academic Vice President.

The fast answer to the question is to say, simply, that since without tenure there can be no serious academic freedom, and BYU has no tenure, there can be no genuine academic freedom at BYU. Its equivalent of tenure, “Continuing Faculty Status,” attests to the lack of academic freedom, since it allows professors to be fired for their academic activity that goes against the administration’s sense of what is tolerable at the institution. Nevertheless, it is worth digging into the administration’s attempt to make sense of their concept of academic freedom in the framework of the broader academy.

Continue reading “On Academic Freedom at BYU, Part 1: The BYU Statement”

Religious Education for the Modern World

The situation regarding the new CES/Religious Education curriculum at BYU has got me thinking about the purpose of religious education at BYU (and throughout CES generally). The instructors and professors have the difficult task of ensuring that students acquire an understanding of Mormonism in a context of faith. One place where I think the current approach falls short is in preparing LDS students to think about (and live) our faith in a broader context. Students ought to understand what it means to be Mormon in a global intellectual and cultural world. This got me thinking, if I were to redo the curriculum for Religious Education (and perhaps CES), how would I take this into account? In that light, I put forth the following. Continue reading “Religious Education for the Modern World”

Religious Education’s New Curriculum: A Tale of Two Authorities

The Church has decided to revamp the curriculum for the Church Educational System, which includes Institute programs and (more relevant for this post) BYU’s schools of Religious Education. Whereas the previous curriculum required four courses—two courses on the Book of Mormon, one course on the Doctrine and Covenants, and one course on the New Testament; the new curriculum will require four courses with the following titles: Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, Teachings and Doctrines of the Book of Mormon, Foundations of the Restoration, and The Eternal Family.

The letter from RelEd’s administration spells out a timeline for putting these new courses together, and mentions several “institutional options,” which are meant to introduce some flexibility in implementing the new curriculum across different institutions. In the case of BYU, current course offerings can replace parts of the new requirements. For instance, the current offering of two Book of Mormon courses can replace the Teachings and Doctrines of the Book of Mormon course. Continue reading “Religious Education’s New Curriculum: A Tale of Two Authorities”

Apologists at War: Religious Studies is Not the Enemy

The Maxwell Institute’s removal of Daniel Peterson as editor of the Mormon Studies Review continues to raise the issue of the appropriateness of apologetics at institutions such as BYU (for a more recent discussion, see here)–on the one hand BYU has a mission to “build the kingdom” so to speak, and on the other hand BYU is working to establish a legitimate academic presence in fields such as religious studies. There are some that see these two goals as largely exclusive of each other. This comment left on William Hamblin’s blog is a prime example: Continue reading “Apologists at War: Religious Studies is Not the Enemy”

Faith, Scholarship, and Teaching at BYU Series

For the series announcement and the question to which I am replying, see here.

I believe that the dichotomy between the “intellectual” and the “spiritual” in religious education is a false one. Instead, I would prefer to appropriate for my approach to this important issue the German adjective geistlich (or Hebrew ruchi): a word that sees the spiritual and the intellectual as part of a synthetic whole that also includes an appreciation for the aesthetic. I believe that by adopting this perspective one may more fully comprehend, and so more successfully fulfill, the scriptural injunction to seek God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:30). Moreover, this approach attempts to eliminate the dualistic impulse that tries to separate the spirit from the material, an impulse which I believe Mormonism confronts and rejects (D&C 88:15; 131:7).

Of course, one could easily recall numerous Mormon axioms for the importance of the life of the mind, including, “The glory of is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and the divine command to obtain out of the “best books words of wisdom” and to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; cf. D&C 90:15; 109:7, 14). But I believe that perhaps the best argument from a Mormon perspective for the organic integration of what is sometimes artificially conceptualized as a division between the “mind/intellect” and the “spirit/soul” is the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. Here Mormons have an authoritative religious example who valued and who aspired to combine truths of personal experience, divine revelation, and academic study. He was brave enough to question and to study things out in his mind (cf. D&C 9:8), while also being humble enough to seek out answers from both God and the collective wisdom and learning of other peoples, faiths, and traditions. He truly was an example of learning “by study and also by faith,” someone who fully believed that Mormonism could bravely accept all truth, whatever its source.

Although requiring methodological rigor and pedagogical sensitivity, I genuinely believe that Mormonism has nothing to fear in studying or honestly teaching the methods and results of modern academic disciplines. Indeed, I maintain that such geistliche Studien in fact are a divine obligation that will only enrich an already wealthy tradition that I deeply love and cherish. And, finally, I believe that such engagement is crucial if Mormonism wishes to retain and nourish its rising generations in this ever-increasingly globalized world, and also if it wishes to make an even greater contribution in the next century to that broader world it is called to serve.


Apologetics in the Academy

In line with Daniel Peterson’s recent comments, I see significant points of congruence between apologetics and religious studies. I also see no reason why the same institution cannot pursue both endeavors—particularly a private religious institution such as BYU. I do think, however, that much of the apologetics advocated by Peterson is better off done at another venue (congratulations to those involved with the new Interpreter project). At the same time, a more appropriate kind of apologetics can (and should) remain at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

In this post I’d like to articulate a significant overlap between religious studies and apologetics. This overlap creates a shared space where apologetic efforts can be seen as appropriate or inappropriate for academic institutions such as NAMI. Continue reading “Apologetics in the Academy”

Why I Laud the Maxwell Institute’s Direction

I have nothing against Daniel Peterson, and I’m not a fan of John Dehlin. I’m not interested in the so-called “hit piece” that the Mormon Studies Review was supposed to publish, nor do I really care about who leaked what Maxwell Institute emails (for a chronology of sorts, see here). However, I am quite embarrassed by this whole event, and these feelings of embarrassment bring to the fore long-standing feelings of embarrassment that I’ve had about FARMS and its association with BYU. Continue reading “Why I Laud the Maxwell Institute’s Direction”

Dear BYU Religious Education (Part 2)

Dear BYU Religious Education,

It’s now been over a year since our last correspondence. I’ve had some time to formulate my thoughts a little more constructively. I’d like to speak to you about the hiring process, and how you might adjust it to the mutual benefit of the candidates and yourself. I realize that some of these may be more applicable to one of your departments rather than both; but I hope this provides you some insight from the other side of the table. I also realize that some of these points are parts of on-going discussions within RE, so a lack of clarity on your part is not always intentional. It very well may be reflective of yet unfinished discussions.

Now, on to the recommendations, numbered for the sake of organization: Continue reading “Dear BYU Religious Education (Part 2)”